Arrow rounded off the remarkably strong first half of its fifth season with an excellent winter finale in “What We Leave Behind”.
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Arrow reviews here.
“What We Leave Behind” was all about Prometheus. With this episode, the Season 5 villain has already joined the ranks of Slade Wilson and Malcolm Merlyn as an incredibly effective and memorable antagonist. What separates those 3 villains from Damien Darhk and Ra’s Al Ghul is simple: the conflict is personal.
Ra’s was a powerful enemy, but he was otherworldly and aloof, with ill-defined goals. Damien Darhk’s goal was destroying the world. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in either of those situations.
Prometheus, on the other hand, has a very specific vendetta against Oliver Queen. And his grudge stems directly from Oliver’s actions during Season 1—actions like ones that we, the viewers, witnessed 4 years ago. Those are tangible and personal stakes that take advantage of the show’s 5-season history.
This history is what made the flashbacks so great this week, because they depicted events that happened not during the “5 years in hell”, but during Season 1. It was both a testament to how far the show and the characters have come, but also a nice nostalgic throwback. It was fun seeing elements like the list, the original costume, the grease paint around the eyes, the more brutal fight scenes… But is Prometheus truly the vengeful orphaned son of some random guy on the list? Or is that another misdirect, confronting Oliver with his dark past?
To that end, Prometheus engaged in riveting psychological warfare against Oliver in “What We Leave Behind”. He left a trail of breadcrumbs, haunting reminders of Oliver’s sins during a that previously unseen mission. Including recreating one of Oliver’s crime scenes, complete with dead bodies used as props, placed in the exact positions as Oliver’s victims at the time. Now that’s dedication.
Through these suspenseful scenes, Prometheus aimed to show Oliver one thing: that he destroys everything he comes into contact with. Starting with Artemis, who turned traitor out of disillusionment with Oliver thanks to his past as a killer. And Curtis, whose husband left him because of his involvement with the Green Arrow. And Diggle, who was now a fugitive, and got arrested at the end of the episode.
And of course, Felicity. Whose boyfriend was killed in this episode by Oliver himself. That was dark, and a major gut-wrenching moment. Granted, Malone was dressed up to look like Prometheus, so it was an accident. But it was a clear condemnation of Oliver abandoning his no-killing rule and his vicious Season 1 self.
And the aftermath is a mark of the improvement that Season 5 has been. As recently as last year, Oliver would have kept Malone’s cause of death a secret from Felicity, causing unnecessary drama that eventually blows up in his face. But in “What We Leave Behind”, he was forthcoming with her, and her reaction was grief-stricken but rational, blaming Prometheus and not Oliver. On a CW show. Truly, a miraculous time.
In fact, the only weak element of “What We Leave Behind” was Curtis’s subplot with his disgruntled husband. But in the end even that tied into the “Oliver ruins everything” theme—and accompanying montage—so it paid off.
Finally, what midseason finale is complete without a cliffhanger? Because hey, Laurel’s alive! We think? I mean there she was, standing in the Arrow cave in a definite jaw-dropping moment. The punchline to Felicity’s earlier line: “In our town, people who were dead end up being secretly alive almost every Wednesday.”
A this point, the death and resurrection of the Lance sisters really is a big cosmic joke. And yet, for all the criticisms about death as a revolving door in comic books, I really did not want Laurel to die last year. So if she truly is alive, I’d be extremely happy. Welcome back, Black Canary—hope your dad survives the experience!